Friday, June 13, 2014

Why So Many Good Superhero RPGs Now?



Over at RPGnet, someone has posted a poll asking folks which system (Capes, Cowls, and Villains Foul or Supers! Revised) they'd use to run a Justice League campaign. While the poll is running in favor of my preferred superhero ruleset (Supers! Revised), the discussion has made it clear that either game would be a perfectly fine choice. Meanwhile, Steve Kenson is getting ready to release a revised edition of Icons, his acclaimed superhero RPG, HERO Games has a streamlined edition of Champions available, Paragons & Prowlers is getting decent buzz, etc., etc.

What's going on? Why are we living in a veritable Golden Age of superhero games? (Roleplaying games are generally in a good place right now design-wise, but superhero games seem to be doing especially well—I don't really see any sort of edition-warring taking place between systems.) Theories?

7 comments:

  1. I think it's all the superhero movies from Marvel and next year from DC creating optimism that superhero RPGs will be big.

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  2. True. What's interesting, though, is that there are so many GOOD supers games. That's what I'm trying to think through here: what is it about the superhero genre that leads to interesting game designs? (And, more sociologically, why do supers RPG fans tend to avoid the Edition Wars that plague other genres?)

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    1. I think the design "innovation"(?) is due to the need to deal with the scope of power of superheroes. An elf, an orc and a human are different but still in the ballpark.
      However, even though Batman is an olympic level athlete (probably) he's in a universe with Superman, Flash and Wonder Woman. No other genre really has to deal with that wide a range of abilities. In D&D terms what would Superman's STR be? 100? 500? 1000?
      So I think they have to come up with interesting designs to handle it.

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    2. Scale and scope, yes. You need clever workarounds to make Batman a viable character on the Justice League--something the physics approach Jared mentions below doesn't handle well.

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  3. An interesting thing that I noticed after running DC Adventures for a year, then running Marvel Heroic Roleplaying for a while online, is that while I kind of liked Marvel Heroic a bit better, I would have no problem with running another DC Adventures/M&M 3rd game in the future, and I'm still kind of interested in seeing an Icons game up close and personal.

    Heck, I'd still jump at the chance to play in a classic Marvel Super Heroes game.

    I could be wrong, but it seems even fairly early on a lot of supers games got the concept of emulating the genre, not emulating the world in which the genre exists. They do so in different ways and to different degrees, but I think that may be something different about supers RPGs.

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    1. Genre not physics, yes. That's true, going all the way back to Superhero 2044 with its patrol tables randomly emulating routine comics plots.

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  4. I think a contributing factor is that the designers who played superhero games as kids are grown up now, and they want a chance to see what they can do with the genre. The superhero movies convince the people with the purse strings that there's a market, you have interested designers with an interesting problem of genre simulation (that is, how to have Batman and Robin alongside Superman, or Huntress with Powergirl, or Hawkeye with Thor), and that goes a long way to explaining why they get created. The movies kind of explain the timing.

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